Retail sales rose dramatically in May as retailers and other businesses closed by the coronavirus pandemic started reopening, the National Retail Federation noted in a review of United States Census Bureau figures, but they remained well below revenue levels seen in the month a year ago.
Overall retail sales during May gained 17.7% seasonally adjusted from April but slipped 6.1% year-over-year, according to the Census Bureau. The May month-over-month turnaround follows a record-setting 14.7% drop in April from March. NRF’s calculation of retail sales showed a 11% May gain seasonally adjusted from April and a 1.7% advance unadjusted year-over-year. NRF’s monthly increase was lower than the Census Bureau’s because the categories the organization excludes in its core retail calculations— specifically automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants— were among those most affected by coronavirus-related shutdowns.
Every retail category in the Census Bureau report saw month-over-month gains, with some of them dramatic, especially among retailers that had been mostly closed the month before: clothing store sales increased 188% while furniture store sales advanced 89.7% and sporting goods stores gained 88.2%, NRF pointed out. But, in terms of overall year-over-year gains in May, online activity and sales at retailers that had remained open despite the COVID-19 outbreak, including grocery, drug and, within the general merchandise category, mass merchants, were largely offset by drops in other channels.
In the categories as defined by the Census Bureau, NRF noted:
- Clothing and clothing accessory store sales increased 188% month-over-month seasonally adjusted but decreased 63.3% unadjusted year-over-year.
- Furniture and home furnishings store sales increased 89.7% month-over-month seasonally adjusted but decreased 23.2% unadjusted year-over-year.
- Sporting goods store sales increased 88.2% month-over-month seasonally adjusted and 6% unadjusted year-over-year.
- Electronics and appliance store sales increased 50.5% month-over-month seasonally adjusted but decreased 30.9% unadjusted year-over-year.
- Building materials and garden supply stores increased 10.9% month-over-month seasonally adjusted and 10.8% unadjusted year-over-year.
- Online and other non-store sales increased 9% month-over-month seasonally adjusted and 25.3% unadjusted year-over-year.
- General merchandise store sales increased 6% month-over-month seasonally adjusted and 1.6% unadjusted year-over-year.
- Grocery and beverage store sales increased 2% month-over-month seasonally adjusted and 14.3% unadjusted year-over-year.
- Health and personal care store sales increased 0.4% month-over-month seasonally adjusted but decreased 12.6% unadjusted year-over-year.
“The economy kicked off in May as retailers and other businesses reopened and both stimulus money and supplemental unemployment checks fueled spending driven by pent-up demand from two months of shutdowns,” NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz said in announcing the sales numbers. “But full recovery is still a long way off. Comparisons against April have to be taken in context because April was a full month when almost everything that wasn’t deemed essential was shut down. Spending has improved considerably, but it’s still far below where it was a year ago, and while the freefall in consumer confidence is over, unemployment remains high and confidence is still at recession levels.”